Cat Nutrition: What You Need to Know

Learn how to provide your cat with a balanced diet and ensure their nutritional needs are met. Discover the best cat food brands and feeding techniques.

1/1/20255 min read

Cat Nutrition: What You Need to Know

Introduction Proper nutrition is the cornerstone of a healthy life for cats, just as it is for humans. The dietary needs of cats can be quite specific and vary based on numerous factors including whether they are indoor or outdoor, their age, and individual health requirements. This article delves into the essentials of feline nutrition, providing insights to help you tailor your cat’s diet for optimal health.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Nutritional Needs Indoor and outdoor cats lead very different lifestyles and thus have varying nutritional requirements.

For Indoor Cats:

  • Calorie Control: Indoor cats are generally less active and therefore require fewer calories to avoid obesity.

  • Hairball Management: A diet rich in fiber can help manage hairballs, a common issue in indoor cats due to self-grooming.

  • Enriched with Vitamins and Minerals: Indoor cats might lack the variety of nutrients they would encounter outdoors, making it essential for their diet to be enriched.

For Outdoor Cats:

  • Higher Caloric Intake: Outdoor cats are more active and require a higher caloric intake to support their energy expenditure.

  • Protein-Rich Diet: To support their muscle repair and overall health, a protein-rich diet is beneficial.

  • Hydration: Outdoor cats may need more sources of water, especially if they are active or live in hot climates.

Age-Related Nutritional Needs:

Age plays a crucial role in a cat’s dietary needs.


  • High-Calorie Diet: Require a high-calorie diet that is rich in protein for growth and development.

  • Calcium and Phosphorus: Essential for strong bone development.

  • Frequent Feeding: Kittens need to be fed more frequently, up to four times a day.

Adult Cats:

  • Balanced Diet: Need a well-balanced diet to maintain health and body weight.

  • Moderate Fat and Protein: A balanced amount of fat and protein to sustain their energy levels.

Senior Cats:

  • Easy to Digest: Senior cats may need diets that are easier to digest, with higher levels of fiber.

  • Joint Support: Diets with supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin can support joint health.

  • Lower Calorie Intake: They require fewer calories as they are less active, to prevent obesity.

Health Considerations Affecting Diet:

Health issues can significantly alter a cat's dietary needs.

  • Diabetes: May require a diet low in carbohydrates and rich in protein.

  • Kidney Disease: Often need diets low in phosphorus and sometimes lower in protein.

  • Allergies: May require hypoallergenic diets or limited ingredient diets to pinpoint allergens.

The Importance of Water Hydration is essential for cats, particularly for those on a dry food diet. Ensure fresh water is always available, and consider a cat water fountain to encourage drinking.

Understanding Nutrients

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require certain nutrients that are only found in meat.

  • Taurine: An essential amino acid found in meat, crucial for heart and eye health.

  • Arachidonic Acid: An essential fatty acid that cats cannot produce on their own.

  • Vitamin A: Unlike some animals, cats cannot convert beta-carotene from plants into vitamin A and need a direct source.

The Debate Over Raw vs. Commercial Diets

Some advocate for raw diets, claiming it’s closer to what cats would eat in the wild. However, it’s crucial to understand the potential risks such as bacterial contamination or nutritional imbalances. Commercial diets are formulated to meet all of a cat’s nutritional needs and are generally considered safe when they meet AAFCO guidelines.

Frequency and Method of Feeding

  • Free-Feeding vs. Scheduled Feeding: Free-feeding can lead to overeating, while scheduled feeding helps manage weight.

  • Wet Food vs. Dry Food: Wet food can be beneficial for hydration, while dry food is convenient and can help maintain dental health.


Catering to your cat’s nutritional needs is a multifaceted task that requires careful consideration of their lifestyle, age, and health. Understanding the basics of cat nutrition is the first step toward ensuring your feline friend enjoys a balanced diet that supports a long and healthy life.


  • How do I know if my cat’s diet is balanced? Look for foods that are labeled complete and balanced, meaning they meet the nutritional profiles established by the AAFCO.

  • Can cats live on a vegetarian diet? Cats are obligate carnivores and cannot thrive on a vegetarian diet without risking severe nutritional deficiencies.

  • How much should I feed my cat? The amount depends on their age, size, and activity level. Consult with your vet for a recommended daily intake and monitor your cat's weight.

  • Is it okay to give my cat milk? Many cats are lactose intolerant, and milk can cause digestive upset. It’s better to stick with water.

  • Can I give my cat human food? While some human foods are safe in small amounts, others can be toxic. It's best to feed a diet specifically formulated for cats.

Making homemade cat treats can be a fun way to spoil your feline friend with some nutritious snacks. Here are a couple of simple recipes to try out. Remember to consult with your veterinarian before introducing new foods into your cat's diet to ensure they align with their health needs.

Tuna Kitty Treats


  • 1 can tuna in water, drained

  • 1 cup oat flour (you can make this by grinding rolled oats in a food processor)

  • 1 egg

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1–2 tablespoons water (if needed)


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).

  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the drained tuna, oat flour, egg, and olive oil. Mix until it forms a dough. If the mixture is too dry, add water one tablespoon at a time.

  3. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it's about 1/4 inch thick.

  4. Cut into treat-sized pieces using a knife or a small cookie cutter.

  5. Place the treats on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 12–15 minutes or until they are dry on top and slightly browned.

  6. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Chicken and Rice Cat Treats


  • 1/2 cup cooked chicken, finely shredded

  • 1/4 cup rice, cooked and mashed

  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

  • 1 egg

  • 1 tablespoon chicken broth (without onions or garlic, as these are toxic to cats)


  1. Preheat your oven to 325°F (165°C).

  2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor until the mixture forms a smooth paste.

  3. Roll into small balls or use a teaspoon to make portions and place them on a greased cookie sheet. Flatten them slightly with your fingers.

  4. Bake in the oven for about 12 minutes, or until they are slightly golden on the bottom.

  5. Let the treats cool down completely before giving them to your cat.

Salmon and Sweet Potato Treats


  • 1/2 can of salmon, undrained

  • 1/2 cup sweet potato, cooked and mashed

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (or coconut flour as a grain-free option)

  • 1 egg, beaten


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).

  2. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir until a dough forms.

  3. Roll the dough into small balls and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press down on the balls to flatten them into discs.

  4. Bake for about 20 minutes or until they are firm and slightly browned.

  5. Cool the treats on a rack before storing them in an airtight container in the fridge.

Remember, these treats should not replace your cat's regular diet and should be given in moderation. Always check with your vet if you're unsure about any ingredients, especially if your cat has special dietary requirements or allergies. Enjoy baking for your kitty!

russian blue cat on brown wooden table
russian blue cat on brown wooden table